This series is a part of the Creating With Kids Interview Project! I have set out to interview 52 dance teachers working with young children everyday. By doing this project, I have learned that you are all amazing, hard working, creative and inspiring! I hope you enjoy the interviews and can take something special away from each one. A look inside a dance teacher’s class, is a look inside a dance teacher’s heart. -Maria
Introducing Sydnie Mosley…
Sydnie is a dancer, choreographer and teaching artist in New York City. She lives in Harlem and teaches babies on the UWS and teenagers in the South Bronx. She says she has a special place in her heart for the littles. She works with them as a part of a pre-school program, and Grown Up and Me drop in classes, both at the YMCA. Sydnie also regularly teaches high school students at DreamYard Prepartory School.
Sydnie holds a BA from Barnard College in Dance, Africana Studies. She also holds a MFA from UIowa in Dance, Choreography. She has also been a nanny/babysitter as a side job for 10+ years, which has contributed to her development as a teacher to little ones. Most of her training was “learn on the job,” and research on her own.
Maria: Paint us a picture of your typical teaching day?
Sydnie: Every teaching day is different for me. On my “long” teaching days, I start with the littles. At 9:30am, I lead a 45 minute class with either our youngest pre-school class (ages 2.5-3.5), or our youngest Grown Up and Me class (babies just learning to walk – not quite 2 years). This is followed by another 45 minute session with the next oldest age group (3.5-5 pre-schoolers or 2-3 year olds with a Grown Up) After a solid hour and a half of singing, stretching, running around, playing games and exploring with the littles, I hop on the D train and head to the Bronx where I prep to teach my 11th grade dance majors a course in dance appreciation, followed by an elective movement class for 9th or 10th graders, and then direct our After School Dance Company. My teaching day usually concludes around4:30pm, and then I’m off to my own rehearsals or performances. On my “short” teaching days, I may teach an after school ballet class for 5-7 year olds, or a morning ballet class for 3.5-5 year olds at the pre-school, and I use the remainder of the day in either case to take technique class, rehearse, or get administrative work done for my dance company.
Maria: In a few sentences, describe your teaching philosophy.
Sydnie: As a dance educator, I embrace movers at all levels and ages. Sensitive to both the setting and those particular dancers, I facilitate an environment of hard work coupled with patience and encouragement. I engage my students to think critically about movement, and empower them to trust and use their embodied knowledge.
Maria: If I came to observe you teach today, what is the first quality I would notice about you as a teacher?
Sydnie: I’m all smiles.
Maria: What are 2 things you love about teaching, and one thing you don’t like very much at all.
Sydnie: I love to see when my students grow and “get it.” I love when students ask questions and I can share all this dancing knowledge stored inside me! The only time that I don’t like teaching is when the environment is not conducive to learning.
Maria: What surprises you the most about teaching dance to young children?
Sydnie: How much they love doing some of the same things over and over! Sometimes, I’m thinking to myself, “Really? Freeze dance again?” Ha!
Maria: If you were going to speak to a group of aspiring creative dance teachers, what would you tell them?
Sydnie: Be flexible. Have a plan of million activities, and be ready to modify them or throw them out entirely and make up something new right there on the spot. It’s the ultimate improvisation.
Maria: Share with us one teaching moment that you will never forget.
Sydnie: I had a ballet class of 3-4 year olds a couple of years ago who were absolutely stellar. I had them for creative movement as well as ballet, so when we were in ballet class, I could actually teach them a bit of technique. I was amazed by how much ballet vocabulary they absorbed, and their fantastic execution and energy. I was so proud of them. They could demonstrate all five ballet positions, plies, tendues, degages etc. with verbal cues only. You just had to ask them! It was a little nutty, but I knew that I could put them next to 5 and 6 year olds who might have had only a year of ballet, and I knew my kids would be on par, if not better. I was really awe-struck by that group.
Maria: Teachers of young children need a pocket full of management techniques and tricks to keep things on track. What is one trick in your pocket that almost never fails?
Sydnie: If class is getting a little too rowdy, I literally call a Time Out (hand gesture and all). I then bring the group together, sometimes in a designated space depending on the classroom, and we have a moment to “shake our sillies out.” After we wiggle, jump, and roll on the floor to get rid of those sillies, I ask students to turn on their SUPER-sonic listening ears, with a motion to the ears and clicking sound in our mouths; watching eyes, while pointing to my eyes and making eye contact with every student; and quiet mouths, with one finger at my lips, and waiting for everyone to hush.
Maria: Since teachers continue to learn too, what is one teaching goal that you are working towards?
Sydnie: To diversify my musical repertoire, and to keep adding tools to the toolbox, when it’s so easy to fall back on old favorites.
Maria: Share with us your most favorite creative dance lesson so we can all use it tomorrow. You know, Maria’s Movers style!
Sydnie: One of my favorite creative dance lessons is about balance. This lesson is good for ages starting at 3.5 years old with excellent listening skills, on up. After our usual warm up, I usually ask students to demonstrate different balances. I actually don’t demonstrate because I don’t want them to copy me. I give them verbal directions: Show me a balance on one foot. Show me a balance on two hands and one foot… on your bottom… on one hand and one foot… on your knees… a different balance on one foot. The possibilities are endless, and the kids are usually pretty inventive and daring. I follow this up with a game of freeze dance, but when they freeze I call out a balance they have to do — so now they are applying this idea of balance to their dancing. We then travel to a different part of our space with traveling balances such as a hop on one foot, which might be followed up by an obstacle course that emphasizes balance: Your walking on a tight rope… don’t fall! After each child completes the obstacle course, students run back to their “personal space.” Class closes with our usual stretching and yoga cool down.
You can connect with Sydnie on her website and on twitter. Thank you Sydnie for joining the project! I really love what you said about how simple it is to “fall back on old favorites” I also have to push myself to come up with fresh stuff, especially when old favorites work so well! It’s such great advice! 🙂